songwriting

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let it ride
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songwriting

Post by let it ride » Wed Feb 20, 2008 22:01

I hope no one minds that I started a separate thread for this. Usually though, my technical/sound/equipment/instrument questions are very far from the kind of things I think about when it comes to songwriting.

So just some basic questions (because I find it really interesting to hear about others' experiences)

1. Do you have any particular "songwriting formula" you go by? Any special circumstances under which you write (like only in the night time or in a special room or only after eating your favourite sweets?)
2. What comes first, the melody or the lyrics?
3. How long does it generally take for you to write a song? Minutes, days, weeks?
4. Do you have a special notebook for writing songs down, or do you just do it on scrap bits of paper or whatever is near-by?
5. Do you think consciously about it or do you just let it happen spontaneously?
Last edited by let it ride on Wed Feb 20, 2008 22:05, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: songwriting

Post by let it ride » Wed Feb 20, 2008 22:05

I'll start then:

1. Do you have any particular "songwriting formula" you go by? Any special circumstances under which you write (like only in the night time or in a special room or only after eating your favourite sweets?)

My favourite places are in the guest bedroom of the house, where I keep all the instruments, usually in the afternoon.

2. What comes first, the melody or the lyrics?

Melody, and then the lyrics really quickly.

3. How long does it generally take for you to write a song? Minutes, days, weeks?

The best ones just get me into some weird trance where I write it in 20 minutes and it feels perfect from the start. Some I struggle with for years.

4. Do you have a special notebook for writing songs down, or do you just do it on scrap bits of paper or whatever is near-by?

A notebook with a cat on it, since my musical alias means The Cat Parade.

5. Do you think consciously about it or do you just let it happen spontaneously?

The best songs for me are the ones where I don't even have time to think but it works out nicely anyway. The ones where I have time to over think it are usually less good, they feel less natural.

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Post by soft revolution » Thu Feb 21, 2008 00:27

Good thread, I can't wait to see some of the responses.

I start on the guitar part, but hate re-using old chords between songs so I spend ages coming up with chord sequences that I like the sound of using weird finger positions, tunings, and capos which leave open strings. This bit is my favourite bit about writing songs and the older I get, I seem to tinker with songs more for longer.

Um, this approach doesn't intuitively lend itself to POP tunes (see prog rock, history of) so it takes ages to work out a tune. A good approach is probably to record the guitar bits and trying to hum along but I never do that.

Mr Green pointed out somewhere else on this forum that I was in danger of creating some kind of massive unPOP epic so I usually have a trimming phase now where I cut out potential guff.

In total stuff takes about 3-6 months, though I usually have a few on the go at once.

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Re: songwriting

Post by Sootyzilla » Thu Feb 21, 2008 01:11

1. Do you have any particular "songwriting formula" you go by? Any special circumstances under which you write (like only in the night time or in a special room or only after eating your favourite sweets?)

I cannot write at home. I have to go and sit in a cafe or a pub somewhere, or take a long walk. This is why I have notebooks with one half-written lyric after another.

I have heard that taxis at three in the morning are a good place to write songs, and the consumption of Pernod and blackcurrant is supposed to help too, but neither helped me much.


2. What comes first, the melody or the lyrics?

Lyrics. Usually a verse first, then a provisional chorus. The second and third verses usually come easier once I've got a sort of pattern for how they work. Then I go back and generally rewrite the chorus and the first verse. Sometimes I throw the original first verse away.

Then I sit and try to figure out some chords that fit underneath the rhythm of the lyrics, and sing the words to myself until I've got something resembling a tune. Often with my songs one of the instrumental lines is more important than the vocal melody, though.

Musically, I like writing the middle eight the best, really.

3. How long does it generally take for you to write a song? Minutes, days, weeks?

Usually if I get an idea the song will be written in a couple of hours. Then follows a day of recording a demo and six months of trying to mix the demo.

4. Do you have a special notebook for writing songs down, or do you just do it on scrap bits of paper or whatever is near-by?

I'm rubbish at this. Lyrics are written minimally over three or four pages of a notebook, and sometimes I don't even bother to write out a fair copy.

5. Do you think consciously about it or do you just let it happen spontaneously?

It's all conscious. Songs don't write themselves.

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Post by tompony » Thu Feb 21, 2008 07:50

I get all my best ideas for lyrics first thing in the morning, either just after waking up or in the shower. I have no idea why. Once I have one lyric / idea to start off a song, the rest usually comes pretty quick.

I prefer writing the lyrics first and then fitting music around them, I find it much more difficult the other way so I do sometimes end up with nice guitar riffs that lie unused for months because I can't fit lyrics into them.

Vocal melody just seems to come automatically - actually I quite often think of a melody but then totally change it when I start getting chords together.

Usually the lyrics are either done in one ten minute explosion, or picked away at verse by verse. Or, quite often, NEARLY finished in one explosion with a couple of lines that come in a flash of inspiration a few days later. I tend to come up with music and record a quick demo straight away, which leads to most of my demos having fairly undeveloped vocal melodies that change as I play the song in practice / live.

I have a selection of notebooks but generally end up working on my lyrics on the PC so I can shift words and lines around more easily. And tweak them at work secretly in a tiny window.

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Re: songwriting

Post by MJHibbett » Thu Feb 21, 2008 08:25

INTERESTING!
what light wrote:1. Do you have any particular "songwriting formula" you go by?
V1 - Here's An Idea/ChORUS/V2 - Here Are Some Examples/CHORUS/Middle - Ah, but what about this tho?/ (optional V3: In conclusion, then)/ CHORUS SUBTLY CHANGED IN MEANING BY PRECEDING DISCOURSE. I keep trying NOT to do it that way, but that's how it keeps working!

I also like to do fairly complicated internal rhyming schemes, just because it seems to get my BRANE moving (and also because it makes it easier to remember).
what light wrote:Any special circumstances under which you write (like only in the night time or in a special room or only after eating your favourite sweets?)
Only when least convenient e.g. waiting for a tube train, whilst having tea, on the loo etc etc.

Those are DIFFERENT examples, by the way, not a description of the ideal.
what light wrote:2. What comes first, the melody or the lyrics?
Bits of both at the same time!
what light wrote: 3. How long does it generally take for you to write a song? Minutes, days, weeks?
A couple of hours usually, tho spread over a day or two, then CONSTANT TWEAKING at gigs and at home until recorded.
what light wrote: 4. Do you have a special notebook for writing songs down, or do you just do it on scrap bits of paper or whatever is near-by?
Whatever's available - tho like Tom, i ALSO like to write on a PC, just because it's so easy to move chunks of words around, and am glad i'm not the only one who sits at work with Notepad open all day, waiting for the last line to MANIFEST.
what light wrote: 5. Do you think consciously about it or do you just let it happen spontaneously?
Yes!

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Re: songwriting

Post by humblebee » Thu Feb 21, 2008 09:41

Oooh, a chance to talk about myself!

1. Do you have any particular "songwriting formula" you go by? Any special circumstances under which you write (like only in the night time or in a special room or only after eating your favourite sweets?)

I usually write first thing in the morning. If it's not happening then, it probably won't happen at all. If it starts to happen, it could go on all day, but my creative juices have usually all run out by noon.

2. What comes first, the melody or the lyrics?

First I'll get a bit of melody. At most there might be one or two lines of lyrics at the same time. Then I'll write the rest of the music for the whole song. Then I'll write the words to fit it.

This is usually the case but not always. If I have an idea for a song while using public transport, I will have to write the words first, for obvious reasons. Once I had to sing the words as I wrote them, while on a National Express coach, but I'm not sure I'd do that again.

3. How long does it generally take for you to write a song? Minutes, days, weeks?

Most of my songs are mostly written in two or three days, and there'll just be one bit that takes a bit longer, maybe a week or two. The rest of them happen when I suddenly realise what it is I need to do with a bit of music that's been floating round my head for years and years. Example! I wrote most of 'I'm Gonna Stay With Her' in November 1997 and then just did nothing with it until I finished it off sometime in early 2006.

4. Do you have a special notebook for writing songs down, or do you just do it on scrap bits of paper or whatever is near-by?

I have a Big Black Book filled with song lyrics and chords. I also have a Big Black Folder on my computer which serves much the same function. It's partly whatever's handy and partly what sort of song it is. If it's a playful sort of lyric then the computer seems more conducive, but if it's more Deep and Meaningful then pen and ink are the thing.

5. Do you think consciously about it or do you just let it happen spontaneously?

Mr Zilla is correct that songs don't write themselves, but my best lyrics are the ones that seemed to. It's like most of the time there's a filter or something, which blocks out a lot of thoughts and ideas before you even have the chance to put them into words, but sometimes, somehow, you can bypass it and write words that seem to come from a different part of you. I know this sounds daft. But when (example!) I look at the words for 'Tonight It's True', which is my favourite me song, I'm not even sure what they mean or how I thought of them; it's like someone else did it for me.

That's lyrics anyway. Writing music is always just hard graft and never seems inspired in that way.

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Post by soft revolution » Thu Feb 21, 2008 09:57

While on the subject - does anyone else own a dictophone? It's the most useful thing that I have for songwriting although finding somewhere that it's not embarassing to hum into it is another matter.

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Re: songwriting

Post by Contravene » Thu Feb 21, 2008 10:12

what light wrote:1. Do you have any particular "songwriting formula" you go by? Any special circumstances under which you write (like only in the night time or in a special room or only after eating your favourite sweets?)
I get a melody or a line or some kind of message I feel the urge to document and other avenues aren't available.
2. What comes first, the melody or the lyrics?
The title or a line first then steal the melody from somewhere, then fill in the rest of the lines based on what I've started with. I got that from Sir Paul McCartney, he was talking about "Live and Let Die" and how he had to get in the line "live and let live" and then how it changed.
3. How long does it generally take for you to write a song? Minutes, days, weeks?
Usually ten minutes, but sometimes I'll start on a song then realise I can use a verse that I'd written years before and it fits okay. I had a song called Ill and Ancient that took about four years to write
4. Do you have a special notebook for writing songs down, or do you just do it on scrap bits of paper or whatever is near-by?
I have a wee text file on my desktop for random lyrics, and then a notebook for finished songs.
5. Do you think consciously about it or do you just let it happen spontaneously?
Carefully calculated and engineered, hmm must write slow and depressing song that tugs at ex-girlfriend's heart strings, using the melody from an old soul song. Hmm, feeling quite happy today, ought to write a snappy upbeat song with catchy chorus and everyman verses. Hmm, Hibbett could be onto something that Alan Moore song, now what rhymes with "Simon Furman"... etc

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Post by tompony » Thu Feb 21, 2008 10:41

soft revolution wrote:While on the subject - does anyone else own a dictophone? It's the most useful thing that I have for songwriting although finding somewhere that it's not embarassing to hum into it is another matter.
I bought one recently, but I haven't really got much use out of it as yet. Probably because I've been working more on lyrics, which can be easily jotted down on paper. When I start getting musical ideas again I reckon it'll be really handy, as there must be hundreds of nice riffs and chord sequences that I've come up with and then forgotten.

The dictaphone awaits!

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Post by Jeezy Creezy » Thu Feb 21, 2008 10:42

That's another post I got beaten to!


1. Do you have any particular "songwriting formula" you go by? Any special circumstances under which you write (like only in the night time or in a special room or only after eating your favourite sweets?)

Bandmate tends to write V C V C B C C I usually do two-three verses and two choruses cause I get bored with songs that are longer than that.

First song I wrote while in the bath – I’d started a beat with my feet tapping the port side and fit a song into it. Usually get together with bandmate and make up song lyrics on the spot to music he’s already worked on. I tend only to write when I’m heartbroken, depressed or just downright bitter. Have done many a joke song with my homegirl but these cause much offence when played in public both to the ears and the sensibilities.

2. What comes first, the melody or the lyrics?

I do melody then lyrics but very close between the two. I have sometimes put poems I had already written to music others have done or I’d decided to try myself but ages after.

3. How long does it generally take for you to write a song? Minutes, days, weeks?

Last song I wrote took 3 minutes. They can be changed a lot though if not happy with a particular phrase. Lyrics tend to come out spontaneously with the music. I can become quite stressed if something doesn’t sound quite right.

4. Do you have a special notebook for writing songs down, or do you just do it on scrap bits of paper or whatever is near-by?

A4 scrap paper or typed at work when bored.

5. Do you think consciously about it or do you just let it happen spontaneously?

The words always mean something in my life but it all comes out really quickly. I’m better at putting it down in song than communicating face to face that’s fer sure.
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Post by let it ride » Thu Feb 21, 2008 11:08

I didn't mean to confuse anyone with the last question by the way, I just meant in a "Do you sit with a rhyming dictionary" style thinking about it, as opposed to a "Oh shit here are some words that just work, quick, write them down before you forget them!" kind of way.

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Post by Contravene » Thu Feb 21, 2008 11:12

what light wrote:I didn't mean to confuse anyone with the last question by the way, I just meant in a "Do you sit with a rhyming dictionary" style thinking about it, as opposed to a "Oh shit here are some words that just work, quick, write them down before you forget them!" kind of way.
No rhyming dictionary, but I spend ages trying to find words that rhyme and that still get the message across. If I get stuck I just rearrange the line so that the last words are "you" and "do".

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Post by Jeezy Creezy » Thu Feb 21, 2008 11:36

what light wrote:I didn't mean to confuse anyone with the last question by the way, I just meant in a "Do you sit with a rhyming dictionary" style thinking about it, as opposed to a "Oh shit here are some words that just work, quick, write them down before you forget them!" kind of way.
Whoops. Too much information? I've always found it easy to ryhme but I make an effort to write songs that don't. I'm awfully afeared of cliches. Unless it's a comedy songs then trying to make it rhyme can add to the ridiculousness of it.
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Post by MJHibbett » Thu Feb 21, 2008 11:51

tompony wrote:
soft revolution wrote:While on the subject - does anyone else own a dictophone? It's the most useful thing that I have for songwriting although finding somewhere that it's not embarassing to hum into it is another matter.
I bought one recently, but I haven't really got much use out of it as yet. Probably because I've been working more on lyrics, which can be easily jotted down on paper. When I start getting musical ideas again I reckon it'll be really handy, as there must be hundreds of nice riffs and chord sequences that I've come up with and then forgotten.

The dictaphone awaits!
I usually ring myself up, and then 121 it when i get home - it's also CONSIDERABLY less embarrassing to be seen ringing someone up, tho only if you stand far enough away from other people so they don't notice you going "LA LA la DER dum di Railway Network TUM TE DIDDLE EE Massive Berk YEAH!"

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Post by let it ride » Thu Feb 21, 2008 11:51

haha i do own a rhyming dictionary from when i started out when i was 14 (haha it was such a day of joy for me when i found the word DESPAIR! hahaha!) but i think it's still in sweden or in a box here somewhere.

i think rhythmically it can be beneficial but i never stick a rhyme in "just because", it is more when it just happens when i write really quickly.

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Post by tompony » Thu Feb 21, 2008 12:05

I look on Rhymezone.com if I get really stuck, but I never use a rhyme for the sake of it. Sometimes I spot a rhyme that inspires me onwards, which is fine.

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Post by Jeezy Creezy » Thu Feb 21, 2008 12:18

MJHibbett wrote:
tompony wrote: I bought one recently, but I haven't really got much use out of it as yet. Probably because I've been working more on lyrics, which can be easily jotted down on paper. When I start getting musical ideas again I reckon it'll be really handy, as there must be hundreds of nice riffs and chord sequences that I've come up with and then forgotten.

The dictaphone awaits!
I usually ring myself up, and then 121 it when i get home - it's also CONSIDERABLY less embarrassing to be seen ringing someone up, tho only if you stand far enough away from other people so they don't notice you going "LA LA la DER dum di Railway Network TUM TE DIDDLE EE Massive Berk YEAH!"
Oooh flashback. I have also recorded myself a couple of times on my phone usually on drunken walks home but when I listen to them again I reckon there was a lot more going on in my head (like the addition of a full orchestra or at least a bass line) than what I was able to communicate by going dum dee dum dum. I hate it when I lose what I'm sure would be an amazing tune if only I had a bevvy of musicians on hand to put it down before it's forgotten.
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Post by soft revolution » Thu Feb 21, 2008 13:45

MJHibbett wrote:
tompony wrote: I bought one recently, but I haven't really got much use out of it as yet. Probably because I've been working more on lyrics, which can be easily jotted down on paper. When I start getting musical ideas again I reckon it'll be really handy, as there must be hundreds of nice riffs and chord sequences that I've come up with and then forgotten.

The dictaphone awaits!
I usually ring myself up, and then 121 it when i get home - it's also CONSIDERABLY less embarrassing to be seen ringing someone up, tho only if you stand far enough away from other people so they don't notice you going "LA LA la DER dum di Railway Network TUM TE DIDDLE EE Massive Berk YEAH!"
I used to do this, but got scared that I may leave random sha la la's on other peoples answer machines.

Which isn't always a bad thing, but its not to everyones taste.

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Post by soft revolution » Thu Feb 21, 2008 13:45

MJHibbett wrote:
tompony wrote: I bought one recently, but I haven't really got much use out of it as yet. Probably because I've been working more on lyrics, which can be easily jotted down on paper. When I start getting musical ideas again I reckon it'll be really handy, as there must be hundreds of nice riffs and chord sequences that I've come up with and then forgotten.

The dictaphone awaits!
I usually ring myself up, and then 121 it when i get home - it's also CONSIDERABLY less embarrassing to be seen ringing someone up, tho only if you stand far enough away from other people so they don't notice you going "LA LA la DER dum di Railway Network TUM TE DIDDLE EE Massive Berk YEAH!"
I used to do this, but got scared that I may leave random sha la la's on other peoples answer machines if I dialed the wrong number.

Which isn't always a bad thing, but its not to everyones taste.

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